Popularisation of Natural History in Britain 1850-1900

What am I working on?

My research intersects history of science, history of the book, and popular culture in Victorian period (Victorian period is dated as 1837-1901 when Queen reigned. But I am working on the period between 1850 and 1900 because during this period natural history rose and fell in popularity among the amateurs). I am particularly interested in the social and intellectual organization of natural history during this period.

Britain is a bit peculiar from a variety of perspectives. Compared to her continental neighbours, it took science in Britain longer to become a professional activity governed by a center. In France, for example, with the establishment of the Academie des Sciences, professionalization took a head start. This also gave rise to the appearance of officially recognized disciplines, enter specialization. Britain took pride in its liberalism, and this was apparent in the organization of science as well. Government funding, until late in the nineteenth century, was sporadic in Britain. Another important point is that scientific qualification was determined according to membership to prestigious or specialized learned societies such as the Royal Society and the Society of Civil Engineers or publishing in their journals. Science was yet to become a career.

“Naming is owning”

Natural history was the study of plants, animals, and minerals by collecting, describing, and classifying them in search of a divine order. This fashionable scientific activity was popular across different classes as an amateur appreciation of nature while industrialization had estranged the urban dwellers from nature. “Naming is owning” was the motto which had imperialist connotations. But I limit my research to the British Isles. Natural history had a considerable provincial following during this period, as any person with interest in nature could observe and write about it. I am especially interested in this provincial aspect of natural history to understand the impact of the metropolitan politics of science on its provincial popularity.

INSPIRE, a real chance for international and interdisciplinary research

I believe INSPIRE has gathered a very inspiring group of people from different scientific disciplines and countries. International and interdisciplinary outlook of the INSPIRE fellows is a valuable source of admiration. A funny thing: when I have hard time understanding the presentation of a fellow, say working in physics, I usually tease them saying that they haven’t popularized enough. All joking aside, it is very important that scientists should be good communicators of their research to the public.

Future plans: after France, Germany!

Of course, the priority for now is to successfully finish my PhD. Successfully means, presenting my findings in conferences, and publishing in recognized journals. After that, I would like to take up a similar project with a comparative approach between Britain and France. And for even later, I am hoping to improve my German to work on a larger project on natural history in nineteenth-century Western Europe.

My background

I did my bachelor’s studies in translation studies at Bogazici University in Istanbul. Later, I had an Erasmus Mundus scholarship to do my master’s at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, and Charles University in Prague. My experience during master TEMA in these two beautiful cities has paved my path to Paris and to this research project. I deem myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to live in these four enchanting cities.

Ali Hatapci